Postpartum night sweats: Also known as your own private summer

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Pregnancy

Night sweats: Put this on the list of things no one told me about when I had my first baby. If you’re experiencing postpartum night sweats, you’ll know it—mostly since you likely have difficulty sleeping because you’re so darn hot. But other symptoms might occur as well—strong body odor, feeling soaked or drenched, and being tired and irritable… on top of already being tired and irritable.

But annoying as night sweats may be, your body is doing exactly what it needs to do to keep you healthy postpartum. Your body takes on 50% more blood and body fluids during pregnancy to support your baby’s growth. This fluid is no longer needed after you give birth. According to the Mayo Clinic, postpartum sweating is your body’s way of flushing out all the excess fluids that helped keep you and your baby healthy during your pregnancy.

What causes night sweats?

While pregnant, your body produces large amounts of two key hormones—progesterone and estrogen. After you have your baby, hormone levels change dramatically as your body adjusts to not being pregnant anymore. These changes can increase your body temperature at night, and like menopausal hot flashes, make you sweat. “During pregnancy, levels of estrogen and progesterone rise. After birth, these levels fall. Low estrogen levels mimic what happens in menopause, and some patients experience mood swings, vaginal dryness, along with night sweats.” explains Dr. Dara Matseone-Peterssen, MD, MPH,, chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, in Yahoo.

This happens even more if you are breastfeeding, because rising levels of prolactin—a hormone necessary for breastfeeding—also acts to keep estrogen levels low. “The reason breastfeeding moms get night sweats is because exclusive breastfeeding affects your hormones, suppressing ovulation and your period. It’s kind of like menopause, which is why women have similar symptoms,” Dr. Heather Beall, MD., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital, says to Yahoo.

How long do postpartum night sweats last? 

It usually takes about two weeks after you have your baby for your hormone levels to reset to their pre-pregnancy levels. Night sweats should gradually decline after this time, and typically last no longer than 6 weeks, although some symptoms may continue longer. In a year-long longitudinal study conducted in Japan, 29% of postpartum women complained of excessive sweating at night, and the proportion of women with hot flashes peaked at 2 weeks postpartum. 

Managing postpartum night sweats

When you are adjusting to taking care of life outside your womb, and your body is recovering from birth and rebalancing its hormones, instinctively you might find yourself drawn to natural methods to find your personal remedy for relief, especially if you are breastfeeding. Good thing Mother Nature has many options you can rely on to help.

1. Stay cool

  • Open your windows to boost airflow
  • Place a fan beside your bed
  • Turn on the air conditioning in your bedroom
  • Use lightweight sheets and layered bed covers
  • Sleep on a towel that can be easily swapped out
  • Cool yourself by putting a cold damp washcloth on your neck, armpits and groin

2. Drink some water

As fluids or “water weight” leaves your body as sweat or urine, you still will need to drink lots of water to stay hydrated. Drinking water before you’re thirsty will prevent dehydration and help your body recover after pregnancy, returning to normal body functions. “Stick with water, especially if you’re nursing, to replace the fluids you sweat off,” says Dr. Matseoane-Peterssen. 

3. Eat some soy

Since postpartum hormonal shifts can mimic menopause, options for relief of menopausal hot flashes can often be effective for postpartum night sweats. In a small pilot study in India, 50 peri- and postmenopausal women were prescribed 100 mg soy isoflavones for 12 weeks. The researchers found that taking isoflavone soy supplements could significantly relieve frequency and duration of hot flash symptoms. These plant-based estrogens work like estrogen in your body, but less strongly. Be sure to talk to your doctor first before starting any new supplement regimens.

But postpartum mamas don’t necessarily have to rely on supplements. You can easily incorporate soy isoflavones into your diet by eating more soy-based foods. The highest levels of isoflavones are found in unprocessed sources of soy, like edamame, tempeh, miso, soymilk, and tofu.

4. Switch to natural fibers

For so many reasons, the longer you are pregnant, the harder it can be to sleep. And after your baby arrives, night sweats and other causes of discomfort during the night can make it even more difficult for you to get enough sleep. Sleeping in natural fibers—like cotton, linen or silk—can help your body’s heat escape, whereas synthetic fabrics—like polyester or Lycra—can make you sweat more by preventing your body from losing heat. Sleeping in tight jammies can also trap heat. Cotton or linen sheets can also help keep you cool.

5. Maintain a whole-foods diet and avoid triggers

Eating well is always a good prescription for health, but is especially helpful in mitigating these steamy postpartum symptoms. Bonus—you can improve your body’s ability to recover after pregnancy, improving both physical and mental health by increasing your intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats along with moderate exercise. 

Some mamas’ symptoms can be triggered or worsened by certain foods or drinks. Spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, hot foods or liquids, can cause your body temperature to spike, which can cause sweating, so are best avoided. 

6. Try natural remedies

In general, pharmacological interventions are seldom used in postpartum women, especially when breastfeeding. According to a 2014 review study, relaxation training (where you focus on relaxing the muscles of each body part in turn, from your toes to your head), paced breathing and hypnosis was shown to help with hot flashes, though the authors state more research is needed to confirm the relationship. 

Additionally, the North American Menopause Society’s evidence-based position on non-hormonal management of hot flashes states that cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing hotflashes. 

Other non-pharmacological options include introducing into your diet:

  • Soy 
  • Beets/beet juice
  • Dong quai (a Chinese herb used to balance hormone excesses and deficits)
  • Acupuncture
  • Vitamin E

Be sure to avoid the medicinal herbs valerian root and black cohosh if you are breastfeeding, even though these also have been associated with relief of night sweats.

When to see a doctor

If low estrogen after delivery is causing your postpartum night sweats last longer than a few weeks, making you extra irritable and sleepy (and generally affecting your quality of life), or if your night sweats come with chills and a fever, contact your healthcare provider to rule out an infection or other conditions, like hyperthyroidism and diabetes. 

Occasionally, medication you take can also cause night sweats, so your doctor might want to check your blood sugar levels and your thyroid hormone levels and make adjustments. Lastly, always talk to your doctor before making dietary changes or introducing supplements, especially while breastfeeding.

Sources:

Ahsan M, Mallick AK. The Effect of Soy Isoflavones on the Menopause Rating Scale Scoring in Perimenopausal and Postmenopausal Women: A Pilot Study. J Clin Diagn Res. 2017;11(9):FC13-FC16. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2017/26034.10654

Hytten F. Blood volume changes in normal pregnancy. Clin Haematol. 1985 Oct;14(3):601-12. PMID: 4075604.

McKinney, Jessica, et al. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 736: optimizing postpartum care. Obstetrics & Gynecology 132.3 (2018): 784-785.

Nowakowski S, Meers J, Heimbach E. Sleep and Women’s Health. Sleep Med Res. 2013;4(1):1-22. doi:10.17241/smr.2013.4.1.1

Pal, Rashmi S., Yogendra Pal, and Pranay Wal. A review on post pregnancy healer herbs. Current Women’s Health Reviews 15.2 (2019): 102-108.

Sideras K, Loprinzi CL. Nonhormonal management of hot flashes for women on risk reduction therapy. J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2010;8(10):1171-1179. doi:10.6004/jnccn.2010.0086

Smith I, Saed K, St-Onge MP. Sleep and food intake. Sleep and Health. Academic Press, 2019. 243-255. doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-815373-4.00019-8.

Thurston RC, Luther JF, Wisniewski SR, Eng H, Wisner KL. Prospective evaluation of nighttime hot flashes during pregnancy and postpartum. Fertil Steril. 2013;100(6):1667-1672. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.08.020

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